4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (2024)

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (1)4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (2)

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In Costa Rica, “pura vida” has become much more than just a slogan; it’s a way of life. The popular expression, which translates to “pure life,” has been used by locals for decades as a casual way of saying “everything’s good” or as a way to describe Costa Rican lifestyle and culture.

As the saying pura vida indicates, Costa Ricans certainly know a thing or two about living life to the fullest, as it’s the home to some of the longest-living people in the world. Nicoya, an 80-mile peninsula in Costa Rica just south of the Nicaraguan border, has been identified by longevity expert, bestselling author, and National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner as one of the five Blue Zones regions—aka the parts of the planet that are home to the oldest-living people—due to its abundance of centenarians.

So, what’s the key to healthy aging for many folks residing in the Nicoya Peninsula? Aside from maintaining a strong sense of purpose, feeling connected to their community, and moving throughout the day (as well as a number of other longevity-boosting lifestyle habits), Costa Ricans tend to consume a healthy diet comprised of a trifecta of super nutritious ingredients dubbed the “three sisters,” aka corn, beans, and squash. We’ve gathered a few delicious, nutrient-rich three sisters recipes made with these ingredients that will bring a bit of pura vida to wherever you reside.

Health benefits of the “three sisters” ingredients

The three sister ingredients—corn, beans, and squash—stem from the traditional Mesoamerican diet that many Nicoyan centenarians follow. People in this region tend to eat light dinners early in the evening, comprised of these simple, nutritious foods. Most meals in the Nicoya Peninsula incorporate plant-based, nutrient-dense, and protein-rich ingredients like legumes and vegetables (which make up about 21 percent of their diet), three sisters included.

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According to Blue Zones research, squash, beans, and corn are grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together, as they provide a symbiotic growing relationship, as well as a complete nutritional profile. When growing, the corn provides a trellis for the beans, beans add nitrogen to the soil, and the squash shades out the weeds. Nature is incredible, right?

What’s more, just like they complement and support one another as they grow in a field, the three sisters pair even more perfectly together when cooking delicious, nutrient-dense meals. Corn provides gut-healthy fiber plus tons of vitamins and phytochemicals that help combat inflammation in the body. Meanwhile, beans are rich in protein and fiber, and squash yields antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and a host of carotenoids. Plus, when consumed together, these plant-based foods form what’s known as a complete protein, meaning they provide your body with all nine essential amino acids. And then there’s the incredible versatile flavor profile of these foods; you’d be hard-pressed to find an ingredient that corn, beans, and squash don’t pair with.

Ready to incorporate corn, beans, and squash—the perfect fall foods—into your every dish? Read on for some delicious, easy to make three sisters recipes.

4 longevity-boosting three sisters recipes

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (3)

1. Three Sisters Stew

While you certainly don’t have to eat the “three sisters” ingredients together every single time, it may be one of the best ways to get the most amount of nutrients in one serving. If productivity is the name of the game, this easy three sisters stew recipe by Veg Kitchen might catch your attention. It’s made with (you guessed it!) tender squash, protein-packed beans, and fresh corn and comes together in less than an hour. Aside from being a perfect hearty weeknight meal, it can also be the perfect veggie-forward side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, too.

Get the recipe: “Three Sisters” Stew

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (4)

2. Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

Just like the three sisters have the perfect symbiotic relationship when planted close to one another (as they have traits that nurture and help the others grow), this vegetarian three sisters casserole with cornbread topping recipe by Simply Recipes is a match made in heaven. It’s packed with anti-inflammatory spices like chili powder and nutrient-dense greens like spinach or kale. Plus, the casserole gets finished with a delicious crunchy cornbread biscuit topping that’s simply irresistible.

Get the recipe: Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (5)

3. Three Sisters Stew

Fall is officially here, and that means cozy and comforting soups all season long. This simple three sisters stew recipe by Brand New Vegan can be made in just about half an hour and is just as nutrient-dense as it is delicious to eat. Aside from our favorite three sisters, this recipe also has other nutritious staple ingredients like lycopene-rich tomatoes and fiber-rich potatoes. So, the next time you’re struggling with what to make for dinner (yet again), consider this dish your problem solved.

Get the recipe: Three Sisters Stew

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (6)

4. Sisters Harvest Bowl

If your favorite cowboy caviar recipe got a major gut-healthy and protein-packed glow-up, it would definitely become this sisters harvest bowl recipe by Suwannee Rose. This delicious dish has our favorite longevity-boosting ingredients plus a healthy serving of grains (in this case, quinoa), which happens to be another one of the must-have foods Nicoyans eat on a daily basis. After all, on average, 26 percent of the Nicoyan diet is based on whole grains like quinoa. Plus, quinoa is also a great source of calcium and folate, and it’s full of fiber, with five grams per serving.

Get the recipe: Sisters Harvest Bowls

An herbalist shares a brain-boosting herbal shot for longevity:

4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The 'Three Sisters' Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day (2024)


What are the three sisters Costa Rica diet? ›

Three Sisters of Squash, Beans, and Corn

They provide a symbiotic growing relationship, as well as a complete nutritional profile. Corn provides carbohydrates, beans are rich in protein and fiber, and squash yields both vitamins and healthy fats from its seeds.

What is the Costa Rica Blue Zone diet? ›

Nicoya, Costa Rica is one of the world's five Blue Zones, where people live longer than average. Nicoyans don't eat much meat and consume more whole foods like beans, squash, and corn. For a week, I ate like a Costa Rican SuperAger, making dishes like gallo pinto and rosquillas.

What do centenarians eat in Costa Rica? ›

Staples of the traditional Nicoya diet include homemade corn tortillas, black beans, white rice, a variety of squash, yams, papaya, bananas, and pejibayes. Meat, fish, and poultry only make up 5% of the usual diet. Meanwhile, last year the average individual from the United States ate 222.2 pounds of meat and poultry.

What do they eat in the Nicoya Blue Zone? ›

Nicoyans eat a light dinner early in the evening. For most of their lives, Nicoyan centenarians ate a traditional Mesoamerican diet highlighted with the “three sisters” of agriculture: squash, corn, and beans.

Is the three sisters diet healthy? ›

Eating corn, beans and squash together – as the ancient Indians did in a dish that has come to be known as succotash – also enhances the nutritional benefits of each. Together, the complementary amino acids of the Three Sisters form complete proteins, virtually eliminating the need for meat in the diet.

Will I lose weight in Costa Rica? ›

Actually, Costa Rica is a great place to eat healthy and lose weight. If you decide to live here, you might even be able to keep it off. If you are just visiting and you wolf down a Big Mac combo meal on the way home from the airport, maybe not.

Is oatmeal on Blue Zone diet? ›

When it comes to whole grains, residents of the Blue Zones often choose oatmeal for breakfast. One of the least processed oatmeal forms, steel-cut oatmeal, is an incredibly filling, high-fiber breakfast option. Other than their cholesterol-lowering power, oats can provide many other health benefits.

What do blue zones eat for breakfast? ›

In blue zones regions, the routine is similar. Ideally, breakfast or the first meal of the day consists of protein, complex carbohydrates (beans or veggies) and plant-based fats (nuts, seeds, oils) and a majority of the day's calories are consumed before noon.

Do Blue Zone diets eat eggs? ›

Eggs are consumed in all five Blue Zones diets, where people eat them an average of two to four times per week. Cut down your consumption of cow's milk and dairy products such as cheese, cream, and butter. Try unsweetened soy, coconut, or almond milk as a dairy alternative.

What are 3 breakfast foods in Costa Rica? ›

Fried ripe plantains, sometimes with a bit of cheese on top or a few extra spices like cajún or paprika. A bowl of fruit from the market down the road. Usually papaya, banana, with seasonal fruit like a mamón chino from the stand on the corner. Frescos made from the fruit trees in the yard.

What foods do centenarians eat? ›

They primarily eat a variety of in-season fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and beans. Eat animal foods sparingly – When they do eat animal-based foods, such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy, they are used to flavor dishes rather than being the main focus of the meal or are enjoyed as celebratory foods.

What do centenarians eat for lunch? ›

Favor beans, greens, yams and sweet potatoes, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains are okay too. While people in four of the five blue zones consume meat, they do so sparingly, using it as a celebratory food, a small side, or a way to flavor dishes.

What do people in Nicoya eat for breakfast? ›

And in a tucked-away corner of Nicoya, Costa Rica, I may have found the world's healthiest breakfast. Under a red-tiled roof, a dozen or so people of the Cooperativa Nicoya wake each morning at 4:00 a.m. They stoke wood fires in clay ovens, put cauldrons of spicy beans to boil, and mix corn dough with wood ash.

Do they eat pasta in blue zones? ›

For Whole Grains: You can include 100% whole grain pasta and bread in this category, but the whole grains (like the ones listed above) are preferable. For Beans: We include all pulses and legumes in this category, including chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, and green beans.

What cheese do blue zones eat? ›

Avoid dairy when possible. If cheese is a must, try ice-cube size portions of sheep (pecorino) or goat (feta) cheese to flavor foods. If you eat eggs, limit intake to three times a week.

What does a typical family diet consist of in Costa Rica? ›

Fruit is a big part of everyday traditional meals for people in Costa Rica. Most meals consist of rice and beans, some source of meat or protein, and possibly fruit and/or salad.

What is Costa Rica food and diet? ›

Traditional Costa Rican food is heavy on rice, beans and oil, and it's usually accompanied by fresh fruit juice or a local beer. To make up for the relative simplicity of the ingredients, Costa Rican chefs typically use an abundance of spices. (They're not big, however, on spicy foods.)

What kind of beans are in the three sisters? ›

In modern-day gardens, the Three Sisters consists of these three vegetables:
  • Pole beans (not bush beans). Common pole beans such as Scarlet Runner or Italian Snap should work. ...
  • Corn such as sweet corn, dent corn, popcorn, or a combination. ...
  • Small-leafed squash such as summer squash (zucchini) or winter squash (Hubbard).
Mar 29, 2024

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